CATONSVILLE - Glen Burnie volleyball coach Juanita Murdock-Milani knew that Saturday night's Class 4A state championship match against top-seeded Oxon Hill would be won or lost at the service line.
To gear up for the season finale, the 13-year coach spent all week drilling her Gophers overtime on their serving skills.
"We worked strictly on serving for close to 90 minutes the other day," said Milani. "At the end of practice I set up six chairs on the court, each representing a player, and we rotated serves.
"I told them they couldn't leave until they made 20 in a row without hitting a chair. They did it in four tries."
Milani's unique drill seemed to pay off for the Gophers as they connected on 63 of 67 serves and downed the Clippers of Prince George's County in three straight games, 16-14, 15-9, 15-6, to claim the state title.
"We knew serving was going to be important, especially when you're behind," said Glen Burnie senior Linda Fannin, who was 28-of-29 from the service line. "I just went for the open spots."
Fannin found the open spots on several occasions, which immediately put Oxon Hill on its heels and out of position. The Gophers fell behind 9-0 in the first game and trailed 13-2 at one point before rallying from back. In the come-from-behind win, Fannin served the last eight points.
"She has been serving like that all year," Milani said about Fannin's accuracy from the service line. "She's real consistent. We wanted the ball deep in the court, preferably to the right or left corner, and she put it there."
After nipping the Clippers in Game 1, the Gophers immediately dug themselves into a hole in the ensuing game.
But Glen Burnie's front court of Christy Hutson, Stacey Gilligan and Melanie Scharf rose up at the net and helped the Gophers pull back to within one point, 9-8.
The two teams exchanged service rights five times with the score at 9-8.
The Gophers finally broke the game open, however, with Mandy Albrecht serving the game's final seven deciding points. Albrecht, a 5-foot-7 senior, was a perfect 13-for-13 from the service line, including two aces.
The Gopher's started slow once again in the third game. But they soon gathered momentum and a 10-2 lead, with Hutson and Gilligan controlling the net, and Fannin delivering her screaming line-drive serves.
Gilligan, who entered the game as the Glen Burnie kill leader with 180, ended the game and the match with a ferocious spike that left the Clippers reeling in disbelief.
"They couldn't believe what happened to them," said Oxon Hill coach Christine Johnson. "We got away from what got us here, which is one point at a time, one play at a time. Glen Burnie is a good team. They hung in there and did what they had to do to win.
"We had them where we wanted, but we crumbled," she added. "We couldn't steal a point."